1:58 p.m., Sept. 29, 2011--Handicapping the 2012 presidential race is problematic, two leading political consultants told a National Agenda speaker series
audience Wednesday night in Mitchell Hall, because a potential game
changer -- Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey and a
University of Delaware alumnus -- remains on the sideline.
The consultants, Republican Steve Schmidt, also a UD alumnus, and
Democrat Chris Lehane, said that as it stands now the race would appear
to be between incumbent President Barack Obama, seeking a second term,
and either of the Republicans Rick Perry, governor of Texas, or Mitt
Romney, former governor of Massachusetts.
However, both said a Christie candidacy could change the political landscape dramatically.
"If he jumps into the race, it scrambles the card," said Schmidt, a
top political strategist for the 2008 presidential campaign of U.S. Sen.
John McCain, adding that if he declares Christie would likely become
the Republican front runner.
Schmidt said that beyond Christie's appeal to GOP voters, "I think he
would be a very effective candidate in the general election."
Citing Christie's speech on Tuesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential
Library and Museum, Schmidt said that in a period of negativism the
governor offers the promise of new ideas and "a vision for moving the
Lehane agreed that a Christie candidacy would be a "game changer" as
the one Republican who can articulate a positive message. He did say
that it takes someone of unusual ability to make the leap to the
national stage without previous experience at that level. "You are going
from Little League to Game 7 of the World Series, where they throw 100
miles per hour at your head."
Schmidt said a Christie run could put Democrats, who will be counting
on a strong showing in the northeast, on the defensive by having to
shift resources to that region. And Lehane said the 49-year-old Christie
could potentially appeal to the younger demographic on which Obama
Whether to run is a tough choice, Schmidt said, because "the bus of opportunity may only stop once."
Ralph Begleiter, moderator of the National Agenda series and director
of UD's Center for Political Communication, noted that a Christie run
would create "visions of sugarplums" for the University, given that Vice
President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and wife Jill Biden are both UD
graduates, as well.
Asked if the direct and self-assured Christie might consider a space
on the Republican ticket as a vice presidential candidate, Schmidt said,
"He doesn't seem like a second chair kind of guy," to much laughter.
Even without a Christie candidacy, Obama faces a difficult challenge
in the 2012 election, the consultants agreed. Lehane noted that no
president other than Franklin Delano Roosevelt has been re-elected in
such difficult economic times, with Schmidt adding that none has been
re-elected with an unemployment rate above 7 percent. The August 2011
rate was 9.1 percent.
This will not be a "hope and change" campaign, Schmidt said, agreeing
with columnist Peggy Noonan that Obama cannot win the election but the
Republicans can lose it.
Schmidt added that the American public might want to buckle up
because he believes this could be one of the "meanest campaigns any one
in the United States has ever lived through" because the only way to win
in a generally difficult environment is to "disqualify your opponent."
He also said each side will probably spend upwards of $1 billion in the 2012 campaign.
Lehane said Obama can win re-election because he does have strengths
-- people generally trust him and believe him to be both capable and
smart. But to excite the electorate, he said the president needs to
provide the nation a "big idea" about where Americans as a people are
"For Obama to win, he has to impose his will on the campaign," he said.
If the campaign turns on the issue of trust, Lehane said Perry and
Romney both have potentially fatal flaws, with Perry somewhat of a loose
cannon who might not pass the "Dr. Strangelove test" and Romney having
been CEO of a company that made money by downsizing and relocating jobs.
To date, the Republican process has too much resembled a "reality
show," Schmidt said. He said Perry's best day was the one before he
announced his candidacy and that while his campaign is not nose-diving,
it does appear to be losing altitude.
Schmidt said Romney is a much-improved candidate since his 2008 bid,
has been effective during the Republican debates and would be a worthy
opponent in the general election.